More pain before gain for Cummins
Back-to-back Ashes series in 2013 may arrive too soon for Pat Cummins' young body to cope with. Australia's coach Mickey Arthur has forecast another two years of injuries and brief international appearances for Cummins until the 19-year-old's body matures to deal with the demands of fast bowling.
Cummins returned to international duty against Ireland for the first time since his Test debut last November, but suffered a side strain against England at Lord's and is now on his way home to recover. His performances so far when fit have been enough to suggest that Cummins will be a fast bowler of the highest quality, but Arthur said Cricket Australia and the game's followers would have to be patient in waiting for his body to be up to the rigours of the task.
"We forget he's only 19, he's still growing," Arthur said. "It's disappointing him coming back and then picking up another injury but we're just going to have to live with that for another couple of years until he gets stronger and his body is used to the workloads. We've just got to keep giving him the opportunities because he's going to be very, very good. I definitely see him playing all three forms."
Australia has deemed Cummins so important to the national side's future that the team performance manager Pat Howard has drawn up a three-year plan for his management and development from his teenage beginnings into adulthood. Arthur said the plan included selective exposure to conditions around the world, from this year's brief England visit to the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka later in the year and potentially the Test tour of India in 2013.
"We've just got to find out what works for him and expose him to conditions around the world," Arthur said. "We've got an important tour here next year so it's really important he has a look at English conditions. Hopefully he'll be ready for the World T20, we can expose him to bowling in the subcontinent a little bit and we know he's proficient in our conditions. But we've got to live with the fact he is going to break down, he is 19."
The example of Brett Lee is relevant to Cummins' case. Lee made his first class debut while still a teenager in the 1994-95 season but a series of injuries and adjustments to his bowling action meant he was a far more hardened bowler by the time he earned his first Test cap against India in 1999. Lee has previously stated that young bowlers have to experience pain and injury over time to understand their limits, rather than being nursed through by medical and fitness staff.
"Most importantly, you don't want guys at 17 or 18; the first time they feel a niggle, they go to the physio and say 'my calf's hurting me' and they have three weeks off," Lee said last year. "They don't know where the line is."
Arthur said Australia's management of fast bowlers was becoming more individualised all the time, highlighting the individual player plans brought in under Howard from the New Zealand rugby team.
"I don't think there's a blanket rule, everyone's different," Arthur said. "A lot of guys bowl better by bowling all year round but you've still got to monitor their workloads. Sometimes when guys rest and then spark then that's when they go into a major danger area so it's a conundrum and I think everybody is different.
"That's why we've got these individual player plans for our guys now, we're trying to work out what's best for every guy to make sure they're ready to perform."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here